Pete Seeger Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Now that Pete Seeger has sung at Barack Obama's inaugural
celebration Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial -- leading more than half a
million people on the mall and millions of people watching on TV in a
rendition of "This Land is Your Land" -- what is left for the 89-year
old folksinger to accomplish?

How about the Nobel Peace Prize?

Indeed, his admirers have launched a campaign, a petition (signed so far by over 21,000 individuals), and a website to nominate Seeger for this honor.

It is much deserved. Since the late 1930s, Seeger has been a
political activist and a troubadour for social justice in the U.S. and
human rights around the world. He has used his remarkable talents as a
performer, musician, songwriter, and folklorist to engage other people,
from all walks of life, across generations and cultures, in causes to
build a better and more civilized world. He almost singlehandedly
popularized the notion that music can be a force for social change.

Seeger is without doubt the most influential folk artist of the past
century. No one can get a crowd singing like Seeger. The songs he's
written, like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" "If I Had a Hammer,"
and "Turn, Turn, Turn" (drawn from Ecclesiastes), and those he's
popularized, including "This Land is Your Land," "Guantanamera,"
"Wimoweh," and "We Shall Overcome," have been recorded by hundreds of
artists in many languages and become global anthems for people fighting
for freedom. His songs are sung by people in cities and villages around
the world, promoting the basic idea that the hopes that unite us are
greater than the fears that divide us.

"If the world is to survive," Seeger recently said, "the whole human
race must realize how important it is that we learn how to communicate
with each other, even if we disagree strongly."

In addition to being a much-acclaimed and innovative guitarist and
banjoist, a globe-trotting minstrel and song collector, and the author
of many songbooks and musical how-to manuals, Seeger has been on the
front lines of every key progressive crusade during his lifetime --
labor unions and migrant workers in the 1930s and 1940s, banning
nuclear weapons and opposing the Cold War in the 1950s, civil rights
and the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s, environmental
responsibility and opposition to South African apartheid in the 1970s,
and, always, human rights throughout the world.

During World War Two, while serving in the military, Seeger
performed for soldiers and for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In the
1960s, he sang with civil rights workers at rallies and churches in the
South and at the march from Selma to Montgomery. In a letter to Seeger,
Rev. Martin Luther King thanked him for his "moral support and
Christian generosity." In 1969, Seeger launched the sloop Clearwater
(near his home in Beacon, New York) and an annual celebration dedicated
to cleaning up the polluted Hudson River, an effort that helped inspire
the environmental movement.

For a brief period in the 1950s, as a member of the Weavers folk
quartet, Seeger achieved commercial success, with several chart-topping
songs that reflected his eclectic repertoire - Huddie Ledbetter's "Good
Night Irene," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," "On Top of Old Smokey," and
the Israeli tune, "Tzena, Tzena."

But his career was soon torpedoed by McCarthyism because of his
political activism and outspoken views. The Weavers broke up and Seeger
was blacklisted for almost two decades. He was kept out of many
colleges and concert halls. He was kept off network television in the
1950s and 1960s until the Smothers Brothers defiantly invited him on
their CBS variety show in 1967. True to his principles, Seeger insisted
on singing a controversial anti-war song, "Waist Deep in the Big
Muddy." CBS censors refused to air the song, but public outrage forced
the network to relent and allow him to perform the song on the show a
few months later.

During the blacklist years, Seeger scratched together a living by
giving guitar and banjo lessons and singing at the small number of
summer camps, churches, high schools and colleges, and union halls that
were courageous enough invite the controversial balladeer.

Eventually, however, Seeger's audience grew. He helped catalyze the
folk music revival of the 1960s, encouraging young performers and
helping start the Newport Folk Festival. Many prominent musicians,
including Bob Dylan, Bono, Joan Baez, the Byrds, Natalie Maines of the
Dixie Chicks, Bonne Raitt, and Bruce Springsteen (who sang with Seeger
at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday) consider Seeger a role model and
trace their musical roots to his influence. Seeger's albums -- he's
recorded over 80 of them, including children's songs, labor and protest
songs, traditional American folk songs, international songs, and
Christmas songs -- began to sell to wider audiences. His travels around
the world -- collecting songs and performing in many languages --
inspired today's world music movement. Among performers across the
globe, Seeger became a symbol of a principled artist deeply engaged in
the world.

Through persistence and unrelenting optimism, Seeger endured and
overcame the controversies triggered by his activism. His critics faded
away and the nation's cultural and political establishment eventually
began to recognize Seeger's unique contributions. In 1994, at age 75,
he received the National Medal of Arts (the highest award given to
artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government) as well as the Kennedy
Center Honor, where President Bill Clinton called him "an inconvenient
artist, who dared to sing things as he saw them." In 1996, he was
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of his influence
on so many rock performers. In 1997, Seeger won the Grammy Award for
his 18-track compilation album, "Pete."

In the past decade, some of the nation's most prominent singers have
recorded albums honoring Seeger, including Springsteen's "Seeger
Sessions." Last year, PBS broadcast a 93-minute documentary on Seeger's
life, "The Power of Song." Seeger is now, despite his ambivalence about
commercial success, a part of American popular culture. In a segment of
the popular TV show, Law and Order, a character says, "The Hudson
River's clean now, thanks to Pete Seeger!"

A truly modest man, Seeger has become a reluctant icon. But Sunday
in Washington, performing before a large audience for perhaps the last
time, he remained defiant, singing two little-known verses of his
friend Woody Guthrie's 1940 patriotic anthem, "This Land is Your Land"
-- one about Depression-era poverty, the other about trespassing on
private property.

Seeger deserves at least one more moment on the world stage -- at
the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway. The prize is only bestowed on
people who are living. Although still vital, Seeger turns 90 on May 3.
It would be a fitting and much-deserved final tribute for the world's
preeminent troubadour for peace and justice.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.